UK parliament speaker gives Labour Gaza ceasefire vote reprieve

Government and SNP condemn Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for his handling of the Gaza ceasefire debate.

The UK’s House of Commons has descended into chaos as the government and the Scottish National Party (SNP) condemned Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for his handling of a key vote on support for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Lawmakers from the SNP and the governing Conservative Party walked out of the chamber on Wednesday in an apparent protest at the speaker’s actions.

The uproar followed a decision by Hoyle to ignore precedent and allow a vote that helped the opposition Labour Party – which is tipped to win a national election later this year – avoid a large-scale rebellion among its own lawmakers over its position on Israel’s war on Gaza.

The debate in parliament was initiated by the SNP, which put forward a motion calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza. Labour and the Conservatives then proposed amendments, with different conditions they said were necessary before there should be a pause in fighting.

The amendments sought an “immediate humanitarian pause” – and not a ceasefire – and said that “Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence”.

In an unusual move, Hoyle selected both those amendments to be voted on, breaking with the precedent whereby one opposition party cannot alter another’s motion. Usually, only the government amendment would be selected.

Some lawmakers jeered the speaker when he announced his decision.

During the chaos, the Labour amendment was eventually approved verbally, without a formal vote where individual lawmakers’ views are recorded.

One member of parliament accused Hoyle, a former Labour lawmaker, of causing a “constitutional crisis”.

The government’s Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt said Hoyle had “hijacked” the debate and “undermined the confidence” of the House and said the government was pulling out of proceedings.

Hoyle’s decision allowed the Labour Party to avoid a potentially damaging split over the SNP motion. A similar motion, also tabled by the SNP in November, saw Labour leader Keir Starmer suffer the biggest revolt of his leadership.

Starmer, who initially gave full backing to Israel as it embarked on its war, is under increasing pressure from Labour lawmakers and party members to back an immediate ceasefire.

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from London, said Wednesday’s vote “has ended in this real farce”.

“The Labour amendment [went] through because no Conservatives took part in the vote. The SNP motion, which began the whole story, was not voted on at all; the SNP and Conservatives are furious,” he said. “Keir Starmer [and] his Labour Party have kind of gotten out of a sticky mess, but it leaves parliament looking extremely compromised. What was a serious debate about this crucial issue about civilian life in Gaza has ended in this procedural nightmare.”

This is an absolute disgrace. Labour and the government have managed to turn what should have been a solemn vote on ending the killing in Gaza into a spectacle. They should be completely ashamed.

— Rohan Talbot (@rohantalbot) February 21, 2024

Ian Blackford, an SNP MP, told Al Jazeera that the day’s events in parliament had distracted from events in Gaza and made the eventual vote less impactful.

“[The Labour Party] came up with this proposition that allowed them to have a vote, and the purpose of that – particularly when the government party [the Conservatives] wouldn’t participate in it – meant that our meaningful vote … wasn’t taken,” Blackford said. “I regret that tonight we’re having to discuss this, rather than discuss the need of protecting the people in Gaza that need that ceasefire to take place.”

One Conservative MP, William Wragg, has brought forward a parliamentary motion expressing no confidence in the speaker, a sign of the anger of some parliamentarians at what is perceived to be a deviation from the speaker’s traditionally neutral role.

Hoyle returned to the House of Commons later in the evening and apologised.

“I have tried to do what I thought was the right thing for all sides of this House,” Hoyle said. “It is regrettable, and I apologise that the decision didn’t end up in the place that I wished.”



Al Jazeera and news agencies

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